Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fall ~ The late turners

The late turners ~ the beech trees, sweetgums and oaks ~ held onto their leaves through Sandy and have looked beautiful the past ten days.

Our farm was logged at some point over 30 years ago, and so we have a lot of fast-growing lowland pioneer trees: loblolly pines, tulip poplars, red maples, sweetgums, willow oaks, and river birches. The sweetgums always seem to be reliable in fall; they are less picky than their more flamboyant brethren the red maples and are beautiful in their own right, first turning gold and then adding red to appear orange, and finally a deep burgundy/ purple. They are the Joseph's coat of fall trees.

View of sweetgums from front porch

Next to the old house site

Sweet betsy and sweet gum

This being a mid-successional forest there are many small young beeches, oaks and
hickories in the understory, waiting their turn to dominate the forest. One of the
older youngsters near the old house site glows like a candle when it colors late in the fall.

I've always liked this oak at the edge of the neighbor's pasture. It's usually a rich rusty color
but is more of a pumpkin hue this year. It's a red oak of some sort, perhaps a cherrybark oak.

Willow oaks grow next to a couple of the pastures. They had some color this year, although their best year was after Fran in '99, when they turned a radiant golden yellow. Everything turned brilliant colors that year. The formula for a really good fall in this area seems to consist of a good amount of rainfall in September and early October followed by relatively dry and calm weather after mid to late October.

Even this sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana) has turned yellow. It's tardily deciduous (meaning that it usually doesn't lose its leaves until late winter), and as I recall the leaves usually just turn a bright brown before dropping.

This has been a stellar year for the musclewoods (Carpinus caroliniana), aka ironwood aka American hornbeam. The young trees at the woods' edge have been spectacular cloaked in their yellows, reds, and oranges.

Although serviceberry is known for its beauty in the fall, our wild serviceberries usually prematurely lose their leaves to leaf spot. However, a serviceberry tucked in a semi-hidden spot surprised me ~ although not for the first time ~ with its beautiful bronzy golden and orange colors. I'm glad I saw this, for later that afternoon when I was hunting for young wax myrtles at the edge of our woods I was delighted to find a cluster of tiny serviceberry seedlings of that same golden hue. I potted them to grow up for a year before transplanting elsewhere. There are many treasures to be found near the edges of woods. I found a tiny dogwood seedling (which I left and need to feed so that it will grow and catch up with its parent) and I always see a lot of young blueberries and sweet pepperbush and cinnamon ferns.

This isn't even the end. The blueberries and swamp cyrillas (the very best of all, imo) are peaking just now. Many of the blueberries look like rubies and one of the cyrillas is as orange as a pumpkin. Another is as red as the blueberries.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fall, Part II

Hmmm, perhaps our fall color hasn't turned out to be so mediocre after all! Sandy did take away a lot of leaves, and at first most of the color we had was from a lone sassafras, a witch hazel, early-coloring wild blueberries, and wild sweet pepperbush that line the edge of the woods and the big ditch that runs behind the big perennial bed and beside the old house site. Last week I was thinking that I needed to add more things with fall color to the garden and maybe I'd been depending on the surrounding trees too much.

We have one good-sized sassafras on the farm, a wild one that grows near the edge of the
woods. It gets quite a bit of shade but still manages a beautiful shade of caramel gold each fall.

The coastal sweet pepperbush turned a rich yellow that lasted for 3 weeks. The leaves
are sensitive to frost and some years the show gets cut short, but not this year.

Sweet pepperbush and willowleaf aster 'Miss Bessie'. The
red shrub in the background is a blueberry starting to turn.

As I had hoped, the witch hazel has been reliably colorful every fall. It's a seedling of 'Jelena' (Hamamelis x intermedia), an orange-flowered hybrid of Japanese and Chinese witch hazels. It has yellow flowers (fine with me), hangs onto its leaves while it blooms (not fine with me), but I love it faults and all. It's a beautiful tree spring summer and fall and when it blooms in late winter it's very sweetly fragrant.

Hubricht's Amsonia turns a vivid shade of gold in the fall until a freeze turns it a more subdued bronze color.

This Hubricht's/ Willowleaf hybrid hasn't turned as pure a yellow but is still lovely.

Then ~ the rugosas, many of which had set a beautiful crop of hips, began to turn color. How could I have forgetten? Gold, with some of the rubra and Hansas flushed with pink and rose. The smaller prairie rose (R. arkansana), Carolina and Virginia roses are even colored with yellow, orange, red and purple.

Some of the red maples just inside the wood's edge ~ which had been buffered from Sandy's wind by trees now stripped bare ~ started to turn wonderful colors of gold and peach and red.

This red maple on the property line managed to keep some leaves. It always turns a tangerine color. Red maples are highly variable overall. Some just turn yellow, others start out as yellow and add red, and a few are just pure blood red.

Next: The late turners.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fall Part I

We are having a fair to middling fall here, in terms of color. Sandy's outlying winds stripped off leaves that had a tenuous hold and so half the leaves are gone without having had the chance to turn. It's been a few years since we had a truly dazzling fall.

Top: just inside the woods next to the open space between the old and current house sites.
Bottom left, sassafras. Bottom right, coastal pepperbush.

The total effect is one of muted warm colors. There is still a lot of green.

Sensitive fern on the forest floor.

I'm not complaining about not having the most spectacular fall ever though. Sandy went around us, only giving us a couple of gray windy rains and a little rain, and the ratio of comfortable golden days to gray wintry days has been at least 4:1. There is still a lot of beauty in the landscape. The overall effect is of warm muted color. Alternating with the brown twigs of spent Bidens are the bright yellow-green leaves of aging Seashore Mallow and purple berries and asters, punctuated by splashes of brilliance: a young pawpaw that surprised us this year by turning a vivid yellow, the witch hazel painted with orange and red, an old gold Amsonia, a bright orange young Musclewood, and blueberries that have turned crimson.

South of the big perennial bed, near the ditch, is an area that is still semi-wild. I've planted a few divisions of willowleaf aster and a number of woody plants here ~ a sweetbay grown from seed, a baby wild blueberry transplanted from our woods, a swamp cyrilla grown from seed, and a half a dozen Antique Rose Emporium swamp roses grown from cuttings ~ but those plantings are young and relatively small still.

Swamp sunflowers and Encore azaleas.

I suppose the Bidens may look like a mess, but pictures don't capture the sweet cotton candy fragrance from the drying stems on warm sunny days, or the small twittering flocks of goldfinches, chipping sparrows and field sparrows that feed on the seeds.

The neighbor's miniature horses.

Seedheads of Sugarcane Plumegrass.

The pawpaw turned a rich shade of orange/brown after the first frost. As you can guess,
this area is not part of the garden, but a wild area that's mowed with the tractor once a year.

Sometimes the tangles outside of the garden bug me, but the wildlife loves them. In summer the Indigo Buntings sing above the brambles and the bobwhite quail flutter and glide from hedgerow to hedgerow. The turkey hen and her babies must have moved on to another area of their territory, as I haven't seen them for a few weeks, but just the other day I saw a covey of quail fly across the old house site, numbering at least 15 if not more than 20.

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